By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on November 30, 2023.
Construction around the downtown core has finally come to an end and traffic can once again flow freely, especially around the intersection of 4 Avenue and 7 Street South which is now re-open.
City officials spoke to reporters Wednesday about the construction project, and they highlighted how thankful the City is for everyone’s patience throughout the process.
Senior Transportation Project Administrator Bryce Dudley told reporters he was aware of the impact the construction had on downtown businesses and visitors and he was thankful for their patience.
“A construction project like this in a downtown is never easy. As soon as we get into the underground it’s like the deep utilities, there’s quite often the things you find are challenging, and that can extend the deadlines,” said Dudley.
Â He said some challenges encountered include the lack of proper ‘as built’ records for the pipes that were over 100 years old.
Â “Sometimes pipes are not where you think they’re supposed to be, they’re not the same material you thought they might be. Those are the sort of challenges we faced,” said Dudley.
Those challenges contributed to changes made to the original project’s completion date of Oct. 31.
Â “We are technically not over deadline – the completion date it’s been extended through change orders to the contract based on things we found,” said Dudley.
He said for now the construction season is over even though some minor details need to be completed.
“There’s a little bit of line painting to finish up, a few things like that. There is a little bit of concrete work down by the Lethbridge Herald, some new improvements in the parking in that area and we have to finish the last portion of the cycling lane which is between 6 Avenue and 7 Avenue,” said Dudley.
Â He said that will involve full milling and paving of that street but there is no more pipe work and therefore the City is expecting construction to go fairly quickly next year once construction season cranks up again.
Â “The budget for this project is about $4 million, $1.2 million of that is funded through the active transportation fund, which is a federal fund. The rest comes from operating budgets. The project isn’t over but we’re projecting to be under budget,” said Dudley.
City Urban Revitalization Manager Crystal Scheit told reporters she knows it feels like a very long construction season for downtown businesses and they certainly appreciate all of the cooperation and patience from everyone.
“I know that it certainly hasn’t been easy for everybody, but we’ve tried to find ways to be able to communicate as we move throughout the construction,” said Scheit.
Â She said the City sees benefits to the new cycling lanes, adding it is great to see the vibrancy by them to the area.
Â “Knowing that we have new infrastructure underneath the surface to match everything that we can see on top is a huge benefit, so that hopefully we won’t see any emergency water main repairs moving forward,” said Scheit.
Regarding the impact of cycling lanes, Scheit said studies show that having multimodal transportation in a downtown core brings in additional business.
Â “Being able to have the cycling lanes installed and connected to our existing cycling infrastructure and existing pathway networks is a huge bonus for the businesses, and I think it’ll only encourage more tourism and people into the downtown in the summer months to really enjoy the businesses and help support our local business,” said Scheit.
Â She said Lethbridge residents are also fortunate to have very mild winters and she believes that provides an opportunity to utilize the cycling lanes year-round.
Â For cyclists visiting downtown during the winter months, Scheit said the new lanes will be maintained through the regular snow removal done within area.
With the expected influx of cyclists into the downtown core, and with the hope and expectations those cyclists will stop at local businesses, the City is looking at installing more bike racks.
“That’s something that we’ve been taking a look at – we have quite a few bike racks currently installed throughout the downtown and certainly we have more that we can install as we see in a kind of as needed basis,” said Scheit.
Â She said requests for extra bike racks can be done by calling 311 and they will be happy to install more, to make sure they have sufficient parking for the cyclists and e-scooters throughout downtown.
Â The new bike lanes also bring a few extra changes to the downtown area from colourful signage on the asphalt to a new speed limit.
Â “The speed limit you’ll see dropping down to 40 kilometres an hour. There’s also a new bicycle bylaw that’s being worked on currently with the City, and there will be updates on that in the new year, which will help to guide the use of the new cycling lanes downtown,” said Scheit.
Executive director of the Downtown BRZ Sarah Amies said she has heard from businesses they are glad the construction is done.
“Certainly there was an impact, a negative impact on some of our businesses’ bottom lines, particularly during the start of the construction and around the start of school, that sort of thing. However, with continued advertising and signage and free parking while that construction was on, we did everything we possibly could to ensure that persons could come down and do their shopping with relative ease,” said Amies.
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